Shooting in a Car

Yesterday I experimented with using long and short focal lengths to shoot in a car. I asked my girlfriend to drive the same short route multiple times as I filmed from the backseat with a focal length of 70mm and then from the front seat with a focal length of 24mm.

The idea came from the scene that I showed during my proposal from Return of the Prodigal Son where the cinematographer used a longer focal length and shot from the back of the car. Generally wider focal lengths are used for these shots to minimise the shake of the car and because it’s quite a confined space. However it was in this scene due to the protagonist lying in back of the ambulance. By using a longer focal length from the back of the vehicle they somewhat captured his perspective which is a more observational one.

My girlfriends car wasn’t the perfect vehicle to experiment with this as its very small and there is not much distance between the front and back seat. In addition, she is really messy so it was like being in the trash compactor off star wars. The shots taken at 24mm are noticeably smoother/less shakey than the shots taken at 70mm. However, there are some points within the clip where the 70mm displays less unwanted movement. This is probably because I was able to better stabilise that camera in the backseat because of space. In addition, being in the centre of car resulted in less unwanted movement being picked up by the camera. This is noticeable when the driver hits a speed bump with one wheel first.

In addition, they give us different perspectives. The shot taken in the backseat shows more of the interior of the car. I did try to make the shots similar but it was difficult with the design and size of the car. The front seat shot taken with at 24mm gives us a wider field of view, showing more houses at once and more of road immediately in front of the car. While shooting at a short focal length is convenient it may not always be the best choice. There are advantages to shooting on a longer focal length in a moving vehicle. It all depends of what your shooting and your desired effect. By shooting from the backseat  you are able capture from the centre of vehicle and if you use a longer focal length you can minimise the interior visually present. Furthermore, you might want a narrow field of view to focus on a vehicle, character or object directly in front of car. For instance, if you wanted to shoot a scene where a car is tailing another a longer focal length may be better suited. It tends to give more of an observational point of view and it may be more practical as you wouldn’t have to drive directly behind the car to get good shot of it. In addition, you may just want to avoid capturing people walking along the sidewalk etc.

Ultimately the two techniques used give totally different perspectives and while shorter focal lengths are generally used, it really just depends on the situation and desired effect.


*This experiment was shot with a full framed DSLR at f16.

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